Coping with a colicky baby
Colic improves on its own, usually by the time your baby is three months old, and can seem to disappear almost overnight. If your baby's doctor has confirmed that your baby is suffering from colic and not something more serious, then unfortunately, there are no prescription medicines or definitive cures that are guaranteed to end your baby's colic forever.
The good news is that there are a number of soothing remedies you can try. Here are some suggestions for how to cope with a colicky baby:
- Feed and burp your baby. Babies are usually more settled on a full tummy, so try to feed them in the most upright position as possible, burping them often. Sometimes more frequent yet smaller meals can make them feel more satisfied and keep their tummies comfortably full. The action of sucking is very soothing for a baby, so offering them the breast or a bottle may help to calm them down.
- Try a pacifier or a teething toy. Even if you're completely opposed to using a dummy, it may just do the trick - and anything is worth a try if it stops the crying, right? Letting them suck on your finger, or helping them to find their own thumb to suck on, might also help. The action of sucking is very soothing for a baby, and if they don't want to feed, then they might just need something else to suck on.
- Swaddle and cuddle. Babies are used to being in the snug, enclosed space of the womb, so it can be quite startling for them to have such freedom of movement outside of it! Swaddling them in a lightweight blanket and holding them close to your heart may help to soothe them.
- Carry your baby. Sometimes being close to your body is a great comfort. They can smell, touch and hear you as you go about the business of your day. Try a sling, baby front pack, or other type of baby carrier to give your arms a break, and see if just having your baby close to you helps them to tune into your calm, methodical actions.
- Keep on movin'. Rock your baby in your arms or in an infant swing, or pop them into a bouncinette with a "vibrate" setting. Rock them in a cradle or baby hammock. Lay your baby tummy-down on your knees and then sway your knees slowly back and forth. If all else fails, strap them into their car seat and go for a drive.
- Make "white noise" your friend. Babies in the womb are constantly hearing things - the rushing of blood in your veins, your heart beating, your stomach gurgling as it digests food. "White noise" such as a fan, static on the TV, a vacuum cleaner, or even a ticking clock can be very soothing. Or rock them in your arms while making a continuous "Shhh-shhh-shhh" sound. A CD of natural environmental sounds, such as a waterfall, ocean waves, or gentle rain can also help.
- Soak in the tub. Give your baby a warm bath. Support their body with your hands and gently sway them in the water.
- Loving touch. Give your baby a gentle massage, especially around their tummy. Or lay them across your knees, tummy-down, and gently massage their back. Jo Hogan of Bella Mama has some great information about the calming power of baby massage here.
- Sing a lullaby. Softly sing your baby a lullaby or slow, gentle tune. Lullabies on CD can help too, and if they don't calm your baby down, they will at least distract you from their crying for a little while and help YOU to calm down.
- Create a calm environment. Turn off the TV, draw the curtains, banish the visitors, and keep the room quiet and calm. Your baby may be overstimulated by all of the new and different things going on in their world, and reducing distractions and potential sources of stress might help them to calm down.
- Try the "colic carry". Hold your baby in your arms, facing outward, and position them so that they are face-down, with your hands crossed underneath their tummy. Rock or bounce them gently in this position. "Chloe would just scream and scream if I put her on her back at all, and mostly only settled when I carried her around on her tummy with my arm under her tummy while rubbing her back and gently rocking her," says Helen.
- Bounce. Put your baby in a bouncinette and tap it with your foot to make it "bounce" gently up and down. Lay them in your lap and bounce them on your knees. Or simply bounce them up and down in your arms as you pace. "For the attacks of colic that Lily, had I would 'bounce her through the pain'," recalls Kylie. "That meant lying down with my knees bent, Lily sitting with her back against them, and lifting my bum by either flexing my ankles or squeezing my bum muscles to give her a bounce. It wouldn't stop the crying, but it felt like I was doing something for her - and I like to think she got some comfort from it."
- Pat, pat, pat. Some babies like to be held over your shoulder and patted on the back or bottom, quite firmly and repetitively.
- Look at the temperature. Is your baby too hot? Too cold? Babies like to be warm (but not sweating), so make sure they've got socks on their little toes if it's a bit breezy outside, and consider swaddling them in a light blanket if it's a cool day.
- Try a homeopathic gripe water or other natural remedy. Talk to your GP about remedies such as gripe water or Infacol. "Gripe water" is a homeopathic liquid that is sold in health food stores and through homeopaths. Be careful of other gripe waters containing sodium bicarbonate, as that particular ingredient can alter the pH of a baby's naturally occurring stomach acid and can actually exacerbate colic. Another product to try is Infacol, which mum Toni had success with when her little girl Caitlin was colicky. "Infacol collects all of the tiny bubbles of air in the stomach and makes them form one big bubble, so when baby burps, it's all out and over and done with. It was awesome - Caitlin was burping beautifully and was a much happier and more settled baby. She would sleep better and also spaced her feeds out to three-hourly, which was a relief for me."
- Give them a break. If nothing else seems to work, a brief time-out might help. Put your baby in their cot for five to 10 minutes and give them some time on their own, and give yourself some time to gather your thoughts and have some quiet time yourself.
- Consider dietary changes. If you're breastfeeding, something in your diet might be disagreeing with your baby's body. Eliminating certain things from your diet, such as citrus fruits, onions, spicy foods, caffeine, dairy, cabbage, beans, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, chocolate, and fizzy drinks might help. Try eliminating one thing at a time to see if there are any changes in your baby's crying habits. If you're bottle-feeding, try a different type of teat - your baby might need a slower-flowing one. And if you are formula-feeding, double-check that the formula is made up correctly. You may need to talk to your doctor about changing the brand or type of formula you are using. "I started with removing onion, broccoli, cabbage and beans from my diet," remembers Kylie. "It is really hard to remove onion as anything pre-prepared has it - even all tinned soup! So I concentrated on making sure all meals we prepared had none of these things in it. Within days it improved and by within a week it had stopped. It seemed, for me, that diet was key. I could drink fizzy drinks and eat chocolate, but had to stop with the veges."
- Don't rush things. Now is not the time to introduce solids, or put rice cereal in your baby's bottle in an effort to help them to feel "fuller" after eating. Introducing solids too early will not improve colic, and might cause other health problems because their digestive system is not mature enough to cope with solids yet.
- Visit an osteopath or a homeopath. Some parents have success with natural remedies suggested by qualified osteopaths and homeopaths. However, don't give your baby any alternative remedies without consulting a qualified natural practitioner first.